Alan Alda links up with ANU to communicate science

22 February 2016

ANU has a distinguished history in science communication.

Actor Alan Alda, best known for his starring role in the television series M*A*S*H, has teamed up with ANU to help promote science communication.

The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, based in Stony Brook University's School of Journalism in the United States, has signed a partnership agreement with the ANU Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS).

The agreement is the first international partnership for the Alda Center, which was set up to help promote a wider understanding of science and to help scientists better communicate their work.

"ANU has a distinguished history in science communication," Mr Alda said. "This partnership raises our work to a level I've only been able to dream about until now.

"Our network of distinguished universities and medical schools now reaches across the world."

ANU joins 15 other universities across the United States working with the Alda Center to change the way scientists and doctors are educated and build an international hub of science communication knowledge and best practices. 

"Not only does effective science communication help with funding important research, educating the next generation, guiding public policy and increasing the public's understanding of science - it also just makes for stronger science," said Alda Center Associate Director and marine scientist, Dr Christine O'Connell.

The Alda Center uses innovative instructional approaches, including improvisational theatre exercises, to help scientists learn to communicate more clearly and vividly.

In his 60-year acting career Alan Alda is best known for his role as Captain Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce in the long running TV show M*A*S*H, set in a mobile military hospital during the Korean War. He was also the host of the documentary series Scientific American Frontiers, which ran for 12 years on US television.

Mr Alda is a visiting professor in Stony Brook University's School of Journalism and was a founding member of the Alda Center in 2009.  His vision was to teach scientists the skills he had mastered as an actor to help them communicate better with policymakers and the public.

The new partnership with ANU fosters exchanges of staff, students and research between the two institutions.

CPAS Senior Lecturer Dr Will Grant said the two institutions had complementary strengths.

"There is some amazingly innovative work, drawing on Alan Alda's improvisational theatre background, being done there," Dr Grant said.

"In turn CPAS has a wealth of experience in different areas, including research on the interaction between science and society, and outreach programs such as the Shell-Questacon Science Circus, which has just celebrated its 30th year."

He said Australian students would benefit from the partnership with Mr Alda and the Alda Centre.

"Alan Alda is a gifted story teller with a deep connection with audiences around the world," Dr Grant said. "He's fun, a well-loved actor who loves science and brings a lay person's curiosity to it. Science communication can really gain through that."

Alan Alda will visit Australia next month for the World Science Festival in Brisbane and give a public talk at Australia National University on March 8: Getting the public beyond a blind date with science.